Airline Infidelity – American Elite Does Delta

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I’m prone to crazy ideas based off wild speculation. I also get skittish the second I feel like my smooth travels might be disrupted.  As such, I’ve spent the last two years letting my anxieties over the pending American Airlines and US Airways merger build up.  I’m not one to take airline infidelity lightly and I’ve been loyal to this point.

But maybe it’s my past experiences that I don’t trust. I was both an American and a TWA top elite during that merger. I was a US Airways mid-tier elite during their merger with America West. And I was a United 1K when they merged with Continental. Three firsthand experiences of inconsistency, elite shuffling, and employee issues have left their mark on me.  And more recently, I’ve been antsy over my own perceptions of diminishing service, increased delays, abysmal food offerings, and decreased award utility.  Also, I’ve never been someone American has valued as a TOP customer (not of the Concierge Key level anyhow) and after watching other domestic traveler friends get passed over with travel even heavier than my own, I know better than to think I could ever chase that down.

As I forecast one of my busiest domestic travel years ever for 2015, I have had an overwhelming urge to hedge my bets. I feel confident that my travels could be heavy enough to re-secure my Executive Platinum status for the sixteenth year straight and still have a back up plan on another carrier should I need it. So I decided to give Delta a spin.

Preflight

I’m easing into the idea of flying Delta. I have taken exactly one flight on them in the last decade before making this decision so it’s a blind leap of faith.  Yes, the flight was that good – a short Dallas to Atlanta segment during irregular operations – and it was enlightening! Between that flight, the benefits of Crossover Rewards with Starwood, and meeting some of the Delta team at BACon last fall, I think they might be the carrier to back me up. (I know many folks have said they are fleeing Delta because of the new spend requirements for elite status. I buy most of my tickets with 14 days or fewer notice and have decent airfare spend each year so I don’t stress about this like a leisure traveler might!)

Still, I purchased and flew my first four trips of the year on American (13 segments in all) without blinking an eye.  But then I had to book a ticket for a volunteer assignment that required me to fly to Seattle. I was required to choose the lowest cost carrier and Delta beat American price-wise by a couple hundred dollars. I searched a few other upcoming routes and Delta was the lowest one on ALL of them – and the schedules looked good. I decided I might give them a spin.

Day of Departure

I’m a little more than anxious, because I have applied for a Delta status match and have heard nothing back despite ten business days passing. I’ve re-faxed, called, tweeted, and in a final desperation move at the airport I have submitted a customer service request on the website (a suggestion from First2Board blogger Wanderlusty).

I feel like I timed this all wrong because other bloggers reported receiving their status in about a week and I didn’t want to squander the timeframe since I’d have to fly a certain number of segments or miles in a 90 day period to retain the temporary status. I figured ten days was good timing and clearly undershot the mark – so already out of the gates I’m wondering if I have squandered my one chance (status matches are a “one per lifetime” deal typically).

Now it appears my first four segments will be “wasted” in terms of the challenge if it doesn’t get approved today.  And worst, my next open-to-purchase tickets may not be for two weeks thus burning even more precious time to meet the criteria, as I’ll keep buying AA tickets as long as I’m waiting.

DL 5773, Embraer E175 DFW-MSP

Delta at DFW has moved out to the old remote gates that US Airways and Spirit used to occupy. I remember the old Delta commercials about “Easy Street” back in the 1980s and used to fly Delta out of this terminal as a kid so it brings back nice sentimental memories. There is a Peet’s Coffee right before the connector tunnel and on the other side, plenty of restaurants including my airport favorite – Vino Volo.

I get to the gate about 20 minutes before boarding and no one is crowding the counter or gate area yet, a welcome sign.  The agent is offering to check bags to the final destination free of charge and I think “why not?” and check mine (a great chance to see how Delta’s baggage handling does).  They are looking for volunteers to take a later flight or different itinerary  for a $400 voucher and I’m tempted but then think that the sorority sisters I’m meeting would be none-too-pleased if I was late as a result.  I didn’t get much time to think about it as several others were quick to run to the counter!

We began boarding a couple minutes late, but the process was very organized with clear demarcations between first class boarding, elite boarding, and each boarding zone.  Since my comped status had not been granted, I was in Zone 1 thanks to my Starwood Platinum status and the Crossover Rewards program.  I was shocked to see so many first class seats on a regional jet – I counted 12 – and another 8 seats for their “more room” premium economy product.  I found my way back to my regular non-premium, non-exit window seat near the back of the plan and was surprised to find more legroom and underseat storage than I was expecting.  And further elated to realize that Delta has many of their regional jets equipped with Gogo Inflight Wireless.  I spent my remaining gate time upgrading my existing Gogo package to an all-airlines pass.

Once we took off, the flight attendants came through with the cart and offered all passengers peanuts, pretzels or Biscoff cookies.  I’m not used to seeing a snack for free on regional jet flights so this surprised me.  And when I looked at the drink list, I was pleasantly surprised to see Fresca as an available option.  The friendly flight attendant gave me two packets of cookies and a full can of Fresca (ME – a non-status passenger)!  Wow.  I glanced at the beverage list to see what else was available.  Bourbon AND a Canadian whiskey AND a scotch whiskey AND two Tennessee whiskeys.  Seriously?  I am in heaven.

But I’m chalking this up to the “strange” factor.  I only like this because its new and feels different, right?

We land in Minneapolis early – like almost a half hour early.  I have a three hour layover so I spend some time wandering around the terminals at MSP – they have several sit down restaurants and a wide range of shopping in the central “mall” where all the concourses connect.  I could easily pass a layover here with no complaints.

DL 1133, Boeing 757-300, MSP-SEA

My flight to Seattle is full and the best seat I could select with no status was a window towards the back of coach.  Since my status still has not come through, I decide to spend $29 to purchase an Economy Comfort seat.  I still board in Zone 1 and by this point, almost half the plane has boarded due to the number of elites.

The gate agent addresses me by name when scanning my boarding pass.  I noticed this in Dallas too and though it was a fluke but its a nice touch!

I’m impressed by the seat – not only the pitch but also the width.  I don’t feel like I’m snuggling with my neighbor in coach.  I’m able to watch a movie on my tablet and still have a drink on my tray table without feeling pinned in.

I again have a choice of cookies, peanuts, or pretzels.  And again I’m given two packets of cookies and a full can of Fresca.  I’m going to need to learn to say no to the cookies.

We land in Seattle early (again) and I collect my bags – off I go.

And Then….

It’s Friday night.  I am confused.  I liked Delta but my status match still has not cleared… and its the drop-dead date for me to book two tickets for travel within the next 14 days.  I am not sure when (if ever) my status match request will be acknowledged so I book both of them on American Airlines (another five segments) just in case.  Lost revenue that would have definitely gone to Delta.

Saturday afternoon I check in for my Sunday flights home and still nothing updated – but one of my flights from the previous day has already posted!

Sunday morning I look down at my phone and Delta has finally acknowledged my complaint submission from the website from the previous day with this response:

Thank you for contacting us through delta.com. We are sorry for the delay in responding to your message.

 Your request has been forwarded to our Partner Representative for review. Please allow 7-10 business days for your request to be processed. You will be contacted if additional information is required.

 Please accept our apology for the unfavorable impression you received in this instance. We appreciate your selection of Delta and will always consider it a privilege to be of service.

I head to the airport later, pretty certain that I’m going to have to wait another week to hear from Delta.

DL 5751, Embraer 175, SEA-LAX

Another uneventful flight.  The flight attendants are friendly and no one has to gate check their bag because the regional jet has generous overhead bin space.

I decided to have peanuts with my Fresca this time – and again, two packets.

But beyond the refreshments, what impresses me most is that the regional jet has wifi – something I don’t get on my American Eagle flights.  I definitely find this to be a benefit when I have work to do.

My only frustration comes midflight when I accidentally drop my phone on the floor.  I’m in the window and the seat in front of me is reclined so much that I cannot reach the floor underneath me.  Without Economy Comfort, I can see how all flights can be uncomfortable for someone with no status.

We are a tiny bit late pushing back from the gate in Seattle and while I’m in flight I get a notice that Delta has noted this and tried to rebook me proactively.  Alas, the plane I’m on is also the equipment we’ll use for the next segment so I know it’s not necessary – but it’s nice to know they are on top of it when a connection is going to be tight!

But the email I’m most excited about is this one….

You are now enrolled in the SkyMiles Elite Match Challenge. Your temporary Platinum Medallion status will be effective on January 26, 2015. Please look for the terms of your 90 day offer to be sent to the e-mail address in your SkyMiles account. If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail only.

We have backdated your offer to include your previous January 2015 flights.  

We appreciate our interest in our Medallion program, and look forward to proving ourselves as your airline of choice.

This is good news… very good news.  The sunset compliments my mood.

A view off the coast of southern California onboard a Delta Embraer 175.

A view off the coast of southern California onboard a Delta Embraer 175.

DL 5754, Embraer 175, LAX-DFW

I check in at the desk as soon as I deplane to see if I can move to an Economy Comfort seat now that I’m temporarily a Platinum.  The gate agent has unfortunately cleared her lists and “oh wow, you would have gotten the upgrade” is sad news to my ears.  But she is going to be taking volunteers as we are oversold and has a seat to move me into if I wait until everyone boards.

I go ahead and gate check my bag as I’m sure the regional jet won’t have enough overhead bin space (I was wrong… there was still plenty) and when I scanned my original boarding pass, a new seat number ticket printed out for me (a nice switch from having to change out boarding passes for a last minute seat swap).

I’m one of the last to come on board, something my manspreading seatmate didn’t seem happy about.

I have to resist the cookies, pretzels, or peanuts – they could be my undoing during this challenge.

We are on time into Dallas and baggage arrives shortly after I make it to the carousel.

Aftermath

Cheating in a long-term relationship inspires a lot of soul searching.  After my first round of airline infidelity, I needed to think about what I’d just done.

There are a lot of things I like about Delta that were a shock to the system after so much time flying American – the friendly staff, the damned cookies, and the nearly universal wifi.  But most of all, I’m pleased by what a calm experience it was, even with seats in coach on all four segments.

On the other hand, it’s an entirely new frequent flyer program to learn and not one that seems overly generous.  Case in point – I flew 4,440 Medallion Qualifying Miles (the part that counts for status) but as a Platinum flyer, I only earned 2,392 redeemable miles (the part that lets me book free trips) as the miles are based on how much I spend, not how much I fly.  I can understand why leisure elites have been fleeing to other airlines (like American) where the calculation is not revenue based.

As a business traveler, I now have one more factor to consider when I book a ticket.  And the temptation to book a higher fare could be a problem if someone else was paying for my travel and not holding me accountable.

Between now and mid-April, I need to accumulate 18,750 MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) or 25 MQSs (Medallion Qualifying Segments) to retain Platinum status through January 31 of next year.  For me, that’s 14,310 more MQMs or 21 more MQSs.  I anticipate I’ll make it on MQMs with the travel I have planned for the next three months while still doing a healthy volume on American too.

Airline infidelity – I’m committed to it now, the slippery slope that leads to being an airline agnostic.  But I’m not there yet.  For now, I’m just a cheater.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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Comments

  1. Interesting read, Jen. I used to fly Delta all the time for business to NOLA, ABQ, and SAT. My weekly trips netted those wonderful Biscoffs (!), good food, and always friendly service where the FAs knew me by name.

    • I do… and know that I have been reading up on everything I need to know on your blog! I figure I’ll meet my challenge by mid-March (still flying AA) too and then figure out my strategy for Q2-Q4 after I get through this one!

  2. I had every intention of just skimming your post, but found myself absolutely drawn in. You are now officially my first read of the morning. Thanks!

  3. As a DFW hub captive, I have to fly AA; I’m a non-stop flight guy.

    The “Easy Street” reference, though, brought back memories. Way back in the 1980s, when I used to fly for business and DFW was still something of a Delta hub, I used Delta for the first time and ended up in the satellite/remote terminal after a late night arrival. I panicked. I was in a satellite terminal and DFW didn’t have satellite terminals! Where was I? Atlanta? I was dead drunk on my feet from a combination of over-work and no sleep — maybe I would’ve felt better if I actually had been drinking — and so I wasn’t thinking too clearly. Back then it was easier to get on the wrong flight than it is now. I probably wasn’t the safest driver home, but everything turned out ok in the end. Delta’s DFW sure was a different world, even back then.

    • I’m told that the return to Easy Street is only temporary and that Delta will move back to a remodeled space at Terminal E when the overhaul project is complete. If it looks anything like the remodeled Terminal A, it will be NICE!

  4. I can’t believe I only saw this post now (hey, only half a year late!) but what a great read! I’ve been contemplating trying out Delta as I’ve been hearing about the perks and service so much lately, and figured I could earn travel miles on it via cobranded cards. While I know I won’t make elite status here ever, especially with the revenue-based system, I’m glad to hear service was pretty good! I’m definitely gonna look into Delta much more! 😀

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